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Raptors-Nets Kevin Durant trade mock negotiation: What’s a reasonable deal for both sides?

Eric Koreen covers the Raptors for The Athletic. Alex Schiffer covers the Nets for The Athletic. Here, they try to negotiate a reasonable trade for Kevin Durant, for whom the Raptors are now seen as the second-most-likely destination for the future Hall of Famer. Note: This is an exercise on what the process might be like, not a definitive prediction of what either team would or would not do.

The Negotiation

Koreen: Hello, Alex. I am resisting my self-destructive urge to say what I think will happen with any real-life Raptors-Nets trade negotiations, because I have an understanding that suspense is a good thing if we want to keep the readers engaged. I don’t know why my brain is like this. I’ll save that for the therapist couch, I guess.

What’s very clear is that the Raptors could offer the Nets a very interesting package for Kevin Durant. Actually, make that several different interesting packages. There just aren’t many teams that have the wealth of two-way talent that the Raptors do. The question, from their perspective, is do they have enough to move a good chunk of it — plus so, so many picks — and keep a championship-worthy core around Durant. I think Durant is probably going to ask himself a version of that same question, should negotiations reach that point.

I’ll try to play Masai Ujiri, which is going to necessitate a major upgrade in self-confidence and a long, expensive trip to an upscale men’s clothing store.

*Puts on blazer, sucks in gut, *straightens tie*

Like any other team, my team is interested in Durant. We already have an interesting core of talent, and don’t have the win-now urgency that teams more dependent on 30-something stars like Phoenix and Miami (hi, Kyle!) have. KD is obviously a singular talent, but there might be a time when putting in some of our best trade chips aligns better with our timeline. As we saw with Kawhi Leonard in 2019, even the very best players in this league, of which Kevin is certainly one, need supporting casts with the right combination of experience and versatility to even get into the championship picture, let alone win a gold ball.

Saying that, this is Kevin Durant, and I am not ignorant to what he could do for this franchise. I just have to keep in mind that at age 34, it’s unreasonable to expect 70-plus games from him, and we don’t want to be in a position where he has to play 48 minutes in an important playoff game. You understand.

So, let’s get to it. Alex — or should I call you Sean, or Mr. Tsai? — what are your priorities when making this trade? Obviously being out so many of your own draft picks means you have no incentive to lose, but that doesn’t exactly tell me what you’re looking for. It only tells me the type of deal that doesn’t make sense. So what do you want, and do you see it on the Raptors’ roster?

Schiffer: I’m too short to be mistaken for Sean and not rich enough to pass for Joe, so we can stick to the usual names here. If I’m the Nets, I have to get back the best 23-and-under-ish player I can in a trade. The Nets have said they want multiple all-stars back in a deal for Durant, who reportedly wants to play on a team with the same ask in place. Appeasing everyone seems as if it’s going to be a problem. The other cog in this, to me, is the Rudy Gobert trade. I can’t put any reporting behind this, but it would stun me if Sean and/or Joe hasn’t sent Danny Ainge flowers, a Harry & David basket, perhaps an Edible Arrangement, some kind of gift given the price raise that blockbuster deal just did for the Nets. If you can get back all those players and five picks for one of the league’s best centers, what can you get for up to four years of Kevin Durant?

As you said, Durant has aged gracefully, but given his recent injury history since the Achilles, perhaps it’s unfair to expect 70-plus games from him going forward. But when he’s been healthy, he’s been a legitimate MVP candidate.

Back to the trade offer. When the clock struck doomsday for the Nets roughly a decade ago as the Deron Williams/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett superteam quickly disintegrated, the biggest thing the Nets lacked was a player to build around for the future. It’s why they had to unearth Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie and rehab D’Angelo Russell to get back to relevance. Getting a player the caliber of … say … Scottie Barnes, would go a long way for Brooklyn in what it lacked last time.

I’m a huge fan of Pascal Siakam, but to me, he’s simply too old to be the key return in a trade. And frankly, that’s a waste of his prime.

If I were Brooklyn, my ask would be Barnes, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. plus three to four unprotected first-round picks.

I’m going lighter on the picks for this offer because the return would be three young, proven players. I think the question for the Nets in some of this is players vs. picks. Do they want to recoup the draft capital they lost to Houston (three unprotected first-rounders and two swaps) or build what they can with the rest of the roster? I would lean toward the second option given there’s no motivation to tank because the Rockets have all their picks. So Eric, what do you say of that deal?

Koreen: If I were the Nets, this is where I’d start, too. For the Raptors, this should be a non-starter, although there is at least some logic to why they could talk themselves into some version of it. If you’re getting Durant, you’re trying to win now, and this trade leaves the two most important contributors from last year’s team, Siakam and Fred VanVleet, untouched. Durant, Siakam and VanVleet aren’t a Heatles-era Big Three or anything, but the fit between those guys makes a lot of sense. That is one of Durant’s greatest gifts, actually: His game is built to fit next to pretty much any player. Hell, he’s thrived next to stars as diverse as Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and James Harden. Like me, he has chemistry with everyone.

Alex, I’m not necessarily against trading Barnes in a Durant package, but there is the fundamental issue of his rookie-scale contract here. I get why you brought up the Gobert trade, but the difference is that the Jazz essentially got two fringe starters (on pure talent, Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt are closer to reserves than starter-quality players), one bench scorer and all of the future considerations. Durant is better than Gobert. But you are asking for a potential franchise foundation and future top-15 player (that’s how we see him, at least) in Barnes, a high-end starter with an all-star ceiling in Anunoby and a very good scorer who has already proven he can improve in other areas in Trent. The first two, and maybe all three guys are better than any player the Jazz got for Gobert. Beyond the future considerations, that is three starters, at least two who are clearly above-average starters, plus all those picks. It’s just tough to build a legitimate title contender with some margin for error if we’re doing that. It would leave the Raptors’ rotation looking something like this.

Starters: VanVleet, Durant, Otto Porter Jr., Siakam, Precious Achiuwa
Top reserves: Chris Boucher, Khem Birch, Thaddeus Young, Malachi Flynn, Svi Mykhailiuk

That just leaves the Raptors too thin. I think we could address some of those issues on the minimum/buyout markets, plus we are developing some players we have reasonable hopes for, but I have legitimate fears Kevin wouldn’t be happy in that situation. I’m not happy, either.

If you really want Barnes, I think there is only one framework that works from our perspective.

(*Breaks fourth wall*: I’m skeptical any framework involving Barnes would work for the Raptors, but this is a hypothetical exercise so we can learn more about what the teams might desire. *Repairs fourth wall*)

To Nets: Barnes, Trent, Thaddeus Young (who can be traded immediately because he extended his contract and was not re-signed using Bird rights), Khem Birch and two unprotected first-round picks plus a pick swap
To Raptors: Durant

Thoughts?


Thaddeus Young. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Schiffer: So I am a big Thaddeus Young fan. I think he has been incredibly consistent and reliable throughout his career, two traits the Nets have lacked in recent years and while he feels like he’s been around forever, he’s only *quickly Googles* 34! To quote Klay Thompson, holy cannoli! But I think part of the Nets’ problem in recent years has been acquiring guys who are over the hill. Young’s numbers took a dip last year, albeit in a weird year between the Spurs and Raptors, but if I’m the Nets, I’m trying to get younger in this deal, not older. Young is the same age as Durant. And while his two-year deal is team-friendly and he has a history with Marks and the Nets, he would not be my top choice as a throw-in.

But while we’re speaking of forwards (I’m making that Grinch evil GIF face) … what about swapping Young in the deal with Precious Achiuwa? He’s only 22, improved in his sophomore season, and while he may not have the ceiling of Barnes, he’s still a young, talented prospect who can develop into a strong contributor. While Steve Nash might want to reunite with his fellow Canadian Khem Birch, Achiuwa is the more intriguing player. I briefly thought about asking for Otto Porter Jr., who Sean Marks first offered a max contract in 2017, but remembered Porter’s wife hails from Toronto. While Porter is also instantly tradable because he wasn’t signed with Bird rights, would he make as much sense for the Nets on a non-contending team? I doubt it. So I will leave the ball in your court in terms of subbing out Young for Porter in the offer.

With that being said, here’s my counter: Barnes, Trent, Achiuwa, Birch and Svi Mykhailiuk (the latter two to make the math work) and two unprotected first-round picks with no swap for Durant. I take away the swap since I’m getting three young players and the draft capital stays low because of the young players heading to Brooklyn. Should you sub Porter into the deal, I would ask for either a swap or another pick. Deal or no deal?

Koreen: This is probably the closest I can get to a trade involving Barnes that is anywhere close to realistic. After the trade, the Raptors roster would look like this:

Starters: VanVleet, Durant, Anunoby, Siakam, Birch
Bench: Boucher, Young, Porter, Malachi Flynn and a lot of minimum guys, both young and old

Ultimately, this roster skews too old and injury-prone. VanVleet broke down under a minutes avalanche last year, Durant obviously could benefit from rest, Birch and Porter both have histories that make you think regular maintenance will be required, Anunoby has had trouble staying entirely healthy and Porter needs load management. The Eastern Conference is too deep to think we would be able to skate to a top-four seed with all of those question marks. Plus, there is just the discomfort of dealing a 20-year-old potential franchise player heading into his second year in the league for a 34-year-old whose happiness has waxed and waned everywhere he has played. (We trust these conversations won’t get back to Kevin.)

So, let me send you back a counter of my own: Siakam, Trent, Achiuwa, unprotected picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027 and a pick swap in 2024 for Durant and Seth Curry.

Schiffer: I don’t hate that trade given Brooklyn’s signings of T.J. Warren and Edmond Sumner on Tuesday. It’s hard to gauge the Nets’ depth chart for next season the way you’ve done with the Raptors because there is a possible Irving trade to consider as well. But given all the depth Brooklyn currently has on the wing, I could see either Joe Harris or Seth Curry being dealt. Curry is on the team-friendlier deal, though. Since the Nets are trying to get the best possible deal, would Harris interest you at all? The Nets prefer not to trade him, which is why your last offer might be reflected in reality.

I’ve given my stance on Siakam as the headliner in the trade, which makes me wonder if I can work on the phones on the back end and see what I can get for him. But if the Nets had to keep him, he’d give them someone to help Simmons and Warren (if healthy) to help with the scoring and potentially keep Brooklyn in the mix for a low playoff seed if everything works out. That’s probably the ceiling for a team without Durant and Irving next season, and ironically where the Nets wound up with both of them missing significant time throughout the year. Including Harris in a trade would put more money on Toronto’s books, and would probably require a reduction in draft capital in the ask. Give me a revised offer with Harris over Curry and see if I like it. Otherwise, I think I’ll take this offer.

Koreen: Harris’s inclusion instead of Curry’s complicates things, given Harris makes $10 million more per year than Curry and is on the books for one year longer. I’ll give you two options here.

To Nets: Siakam, Trent, Young, unprotected first-round picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027, plus a pick swap in 2024
To Raptors: Durant, Harris

OR

To Nets: Siakam, Trent, Young, Achiuwa, unprotected first-round picks in 2023 and 2025, plus a pick swap in 2024
To Raptors: Durant, Harris, 2025 second-round pick (via Miami)

Basically, as the Raptors, I’m valuing Achiuwa (plus the difficulty in replacing him) as worth a future first and a second-rounder that probably won’t be very good. (By the way, old pal Blake Murphy reported that Young’s deal is guaranteed for just $1 million in 2023-24. That contract could have some utility beyond just the player it’s attached to.) Do we have a deal anywhere in here?

Schiffer: I’ll take this deal: Siakam, Trent, Achiuwa, unprotected picks in 2023, 2025 and 2027 and a pick swap in 2024 for Durant and Seth Curry.

The Nets’ preference appears to be to keep Joe Harris, and this gets the Nets two young players, plus Siakam with three firsts. That leaves the Raptors’ with Barnes, VanVleet and Anunoby to play alongside Durant. Brooklyn wouldn’t be getting the young all-star caliber player they seek, but they’d still be getting an All-Star who should have at least four good seasons left in them to help keep the Nets’ competitive. Assuming Irving follows Durant out the door in our hypothetical trade, that would make the Nets’ starting five: Simmons, Harris, TJ Warren or Royce O’Neale, Siakam and Nic Claxton with Patty Mills, Warren/O’Neale, Day’Ron Sharpe for a top-eight rotation aside from whatever Irving could yield. In the East, that should be good enough to compete for a Play-In spot with perhaps the No. 6 seed as the ceiling if things break their way.


Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. (Brad Penner / USA TODAY)

The Debrief

Koreen: This was an interesting exercise to go through, and only a hint at what these front offices have to think through. I did mean what I said — if I were the Raptors, I would not be absolutely opposed to trading Barnes, even though it is my strong preference not to. His rookie-scale salary, however, means they have to attach more high-price pieces to the deal, and it becomes difficult to do that while keeping the team deep and talented enough to really compete at the highest level.

I’m not sure the Raptors do this deal. It might seem like a small thing, but either taking Achiuwa or one of the firsts might go a long way. I hated giving him up in this deal, which is why I subtly tried to slip him out in one of the two final offers I made. I don’t think you can let him stand in the way of getting a deal done, but his defensive upside is pretty immense.

Ultimately, the Raptors probably start VanVleet, Barnes, Durant, Anunoby and Birch on most nights, with Curry, Boucher, Young and Porter the main bench pieces. That’s a good team, if one that needs another centre to save Anunoby, Barnes and Durant from the wear and tear of playing up front pretty badly. They’re probably not quite at the level of Milwaukee or Boston, but I think they qualify as a title contender under Daryl Morey’s “five percent theory.” A lot of their championship equity would be determined by how quickly Barnes grows into an all-star-level player.

Schiffer: This is one of those tests you take where you walk out feeling like you gave it your best, but still didn’t do well. When you look at the return Utah got for Gobert, especially the draft capital, it’s hard to see the Nets settling for a return that doesn’t match or top it. I don’t blame the Raptors if they don’t want to trade Barnes. But if that’s the case, I have doubts the Nets make the trade.

I think this exercise shows why this could ultimately end up as a three-, four-, heck, maybe five-team deal, if it goes down. While the Raptors are the most suitable partner to do a straight trade with the Nets on, the balance teams face trading away half their rotation just to make the money work for a player who will soon turn 34 in September and could always ask out of his next team in a year. It makes the juice not worth the squeeze to some. It would not surprise me if we see Durant and Irving on Brooklyn’s roster heading into September. Then what?

(Top photo: Brad Penner / USA TODAY)

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